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Assistant men's cross country coach Mitch Bentley poses outside of Peden Stadium during Tuesday's practice on October 25, 2016. Coach Bentley was a cross country and track runner at Ohio University who won six All-MAC honors during collegiate career from 1981-1985.

Cross Country: Mitch Bentley knows the routes and running culture of Athens and OU

Finding someone who has managed to leave his mark as a coach and runner for the same university is rare.

That's exactly what assistant coach Mitch Bentley has done for the Ohio men’s cross country program through a period of three decades.

Bentley was born in Columbus. He ran cross country at Columbus West High School and wanted to go to a college close to home after graduating. He felt Ohio University would be the perfect fit for him.

“Some of the top runners in Ohio were based in Athens at the time,” he said. “It was a ‘hopping’ town for running. The scene was great here, and that’s what attracted me here.” 

He started his Bobcat career in 1981 as a distance runner for a newly developed cross country program. He was the first recruit chosen by young and distinguished coach Elmore Banton.

“He had just been hired as a coach and wanted to build a great team here at Ohio,” Bentley said. “He was the 1964 NCAA champion in cross country, he ran for an awesome coach and I wanted to be a part of something that great.”

Before long, he began to excel under Banton’s mentorship. Bentley ran four years and earned All-MAC honors twice in cross country and four times in track and field. In 1984, he set Ohio records in the outdoor 10,000 meters (29:47.50) and indoor 5,000 meters, times that still stand as the second-best in school history.

After graduating in 1985, he became a leader on the sideline, coaching for Vinton County Junior High School boys’ cross country team. He later became the coach of the cross country and track and field teams at Athens High School.

Over time, the strong quality of the runners and coaching staff in Athens would draw Bentley back to familiar grounds. By 2010, he found himself as an assistant and distance coach for Ohio’s men’s cross country and women’s track and field teams respectively.  

His background as a former runner and current coach makes it easy for him to put himself in the shoes of his players.

“I know every street, house, nook and cranny here, they can’t fool me on anything,” he said. “I have been through a lot in my life and there are very few situations I can’t empathize with them on.”

Rather than focusing on earning certain places, Bentley aims to give the team the passion and drive to be fierce competitors and achieve post-collegiate success in running.

"I’ve helped instill the love of running into them and that’s a difficult thing to do,” he said. “My main goal is to get them to love the process of striving to be your best, there’s never been anything more disappointing to me to see someone just not try.”

Senior runner Michael McKean said Bentley’s confidence in him erased the concerns he had upon arriving to Ohio.

“Coming from high school, I wasn’t really a big name. This was the only Division I school that put any interest in me,” McKean said. “Bentley was the only Division I Coach that believed in me, he always has throughout my four years of being here.”

Senior runner Alex Wind said he has given them the guidance to push through a variety of circumstances.

McKean said Bentley is molding the team to be stronger on and off the field.

“Mitch (Bentley) also talks about being a student first and carrying that same hard-work, confidence and motivation to the classroom,” he said. “He’s shaping us to be good runners but also better people.”


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